Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rockledge Rumble 50k - Part 3: Just Keep Running

When preparing for my 50k, I drove to Murrell Park and ran some miles on the race course.  There was 1 part of the course in particular that I hadn't run before, and I had heard this was the hardest part of the trail.  I made a trip out there a week before and tried it out, and it was even tougher than I expected.  I knew these miles would slow me down, and by 9:00 I was into this terrain.

There's a great thing about trail running that helps with these miles: walking.  Unlike road runners, all trail runners walk from time to time.  They know it's dangerous to navigate some terrain at a run, and when you're running 31 miles or more it's just not worth risking injuring yourself at every rough patch for a little extra momentum.  Only having run 1 trail race before (a 15k exactly 1 year prior on the same course), I was learning just how the later miles differ from a road race.

Almost 2 years ago, I ran my first full marathon.  I had trained for months to the point that I completed a 22 mile training run 3 weeks prior to the race.  I was used to the mileage, so the looming question was how to pace myself.  I could have kept to my training pace to ensure that I could finish, I could have aimed for a reasonable goal, or I could have pushed myself to try to reach my highest potential.  Unfortunately, I opted for the third.

During the weeks leading up to the race, I had run the numbers over and over and decided that I should be able to finish in about 5 hours 10 minutes without pushing myself too ambitiously.  But the more I looked at that number, the more I wanted to reach 5 hours flat.

I kept running the numbers again and again, played with the length of my walk breaks, walking vs. running pace, and first stretch vs. last stretch pace.  I had finally found a set of numbers that would get me close.  Close enough that, if I could summon the energy in the last few miles as the finish line was within reach, I could reach or break the 5 hour mark.  It was perfect.  Not impossible, not far from the pace I knew I could run, just enough to work.

I stuck to my plan on that race day.  My first few miles were a little faster, while I had adrenaline to pull me along, and my pace steadied as I pushed toward the 10 mile and half marathon mark.  It felt great until about mile 15.  I started to feel as if I was running out of fuel.  My legs still worked, but my heart rate was increasing and my lungs felt strained.  I pushed on for 1 more mile, and I knew.  I pushed too hard.  If this feeling had held until mile 20 I could make it, but this was too soon.  I couldn't push through this for 10 whole miles.

I walked.  A lot.  Probably 3 miles straight before I decided I was recovered enough to run, and by then I could only run about as often as I walked.

The Ultramarathon was different.  By mile 16 I had hoped to push back to the pacing I had maintained during the first hour (since I had returned to the easier terrain), but I also knew this would be the hard part of the race.  Right on schedule, my legs began to tire.  I had gained a running partner by that point (who would continue to help me pace the remainder of the course), and I told her "I'm going to be hurting in 3 more miles."

She told me to stay positive, but I couldn't avoid this reality.  It happened every time I passed the 16 mile mark.  First, my legs started to tire.  Then, walk breaks got longer.  By the time I reached mile 19, my legs were screaming, and I could hardly convince myself to begin, or even hold, a jogging pace.  Race day was no different.

I had reached the hardest point of the race, and it was time to dig deep.

More to come,


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